Group is seek­ing par­ties’ fund­ing dis­clo­sure so as to safe­guard SA democ­racy

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - SOYISO MALITI

A CIVIL so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tion will re­turn to court next week to chal­lenge the Pro­mo­tion of Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion Act’s (PAIA) lim­its re­gard­ing ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion of po­lit­i­cal par­ties’ pri­vate fund­ing.

My Vote Counts (MVC) will be at the West­ern Cape High Court to chal­lenge the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of the PAIA. The ap­pli­ca­tion will be heard on Tues­day and Wed­nes­day.

The DA, the only party op­pos­ing this ap­pli­ca­tion, has filed an op­pos­ing af­fi­davit.

MVC will also be mak­ing a ver­bal sub­mis­sion to the ad hoc com­mit­tee on the Fund­ing of Po­lit­i­cal Par­ties in Par­lia­ment on Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day. The min­is­ter of jus­tice and cor­rec­tional ser­vices is an­other re­spon­dent to the ap­pli­ca­tion.

“( We be­lieve) that ev­ery vote should count equally. A cit­i­zen’s vote must count more than the rands and cents that po­lit­i­cal par­ties col­lect in or­der to cam­paign for pub­lic of­fice,” said MVC co-or­di­na­tor, Ja­nine Ogle.

“When the do­na­tions made by in­di­vid­u­als, com­pa­nies, or for­eign gov­ern­ments be­come more im­por­tant than the com­mon voter – when the voice of money is heard louder than yours or mine – then democ­racy is in dan­ger.”

Ogle said her or­gan­i­sa­tion would fight to keep the coun­try’s democ­racy from be­ing re­duced to an eco­nomic prin­ci­ple “of one rand, one vote”.

“Our democ­racy will not be put up for sale to the high­est bid­der.”

The or­gan­i­sa­tion is res­o­lute in its be­lief that ev­ery cent re­ceived by po­lit­i­cal par­ties must be ac­counted for to the pub­lic, which can “only prop­erly hold our elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives ac­count­able if we know where their fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests lie”.

MVC launched the ap­pli­ca­tion to de­clare the PAIA in­valid and un­con­sti­tu­tional last year in July.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion ar­gues that the Act fails “to make pro­vi­sion for the con­tin­u­ous and sys­tem­atic recordal and dis­clo­sure of in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing the pri­vate fund­ing of po­lit­i­cal par­ties and in­de­pen­dent ward can­di­dates”.

The ap­pli­ca­tion fol­lows a 2015 Con­sti­tu­tional Court ap­pli­ca­tion by the or­gan­i­sa­tion against the Speaker of Par­lia­ment, where the bench held that the MVC should have chal­lenged the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of the Act for fail­ing to al­low ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion on pri­vate fund­ing, in the West­ern Cape High Court.

In court pa­pers, the DA has asked the court to dis­miss the cur­rent ap­pli­ca­tion with costs.

The party’s ar­gu­ments in­clude:

The DA states that the In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral Com- mis­sion (IEC) ought to have been joined to these pro­ceed­ings by MVC;

The DA puts for­ward fur­ther ar­gu­ments, one deal­ing more with an is­sue in prin­ci­ple and the other which aims at es­tab­lish­ing that the lim­i­ta­tion of the pub­lic’s right to know is jus­ti­fied;

The DA also ar­gues the MVC has failed to show that dis­clo­sure is re­quired for the ef­fec­tive ex­er­cise of the right to vote and/or that se­crecy of fund­ing cre­ates space for, or fa­cil­i­tates, po­ten­tial col­lu­sion and cor­rup­tion;

Their ar­gu­ment on the prac­ti­cal­ity of what MVC is ask­ing of the court is that “a com­pul­sory dis­clo­sure regime will have a dis­pro­por­tion­ately bur­den­some ef­fect on smaller and mi­nor­ity par­ties” (para 18) and that: many donors be­lieve that dis­clo­sure could “… harm their busi­ness in­ter­ests if it was found that they sup­ported an op­po­si­tion party like the DA”; “donors will not give money to par­ties like the DA, based on the fear that this will mean that they will be un­able to do busi­ness with the na­tional gov­ern­ment, as well as the pro­vin­cial ad­min­is­tra­tions and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties which are not con­trolled by other par­ties”.

They also ar­gue that a dis­clo­sure regime would re­quire mon­i­tor­ing and over­sight by a body “with in­tru­sive pow­ers” and that “this would fur­ther in­trude on the pri­vacy of po­lit­i­cal par­ties, and their donors and em­ploy­ees”.

As such, the party ar­gues that any lim­i­ta­tion of the right of ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion which pre­vents the dis­clo­sure of pri­vate fund­ing in­for­ma­tion is jus­ti­fied.

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